Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5: can it replace Photoshop?

Unlike Adobe Photoshop Elements 11, Lightroom isn’t an all-round image-editing tool. Instead, it focuses on photo processing.

As with Elements, its front-end is divided into several modules, but here they represent different stages of a digital photography workflow. The Library module lets you import images then browse, sort and categorise images and collections, while the Develop stage offers the tools to bring out the full detail and tone of your pictures.

The tools on offer here are the same as the ones in Photoshop’s full Camera Raw importer. They’re exposed differently, in a stacked pane, but you get all the same controls for adjusting levels and curves, applying graduated and radial filters, directly tweaking areas of the image, and applying sharpening and noise reduction, all non-destructively.

Lightroom also offers some features you won’t find in Photoshop. As in Elements, you can plot your images on a map to manage your collections geographically instead of by folder or date.

The Web and Slideshow modules help you share your images, while the Book and Print modules let you print out images or create photobooks to be exported as PDFs or printed commercially.

At £103, Lightroom 5 is more expensive than Elements, and is technically a less versatile program – for example, there’s no way to combine elements of multiple photos into a composite image. For photography enthusiasts, however, its focused approach may be welcome, and its image-improving adjustment tools are second to none. That makes it an easy recommendation for any aspiring photographer.

Elements and Lightroom are powerful in their own ways, but the full Photoshop package combines the image-editing and photo-processing capabilities of both – and has many additional features besides.

Why you shouldn’t switch

For designers, the most important one is Photoshop’s support for CMYK colour, which lets you prepare images for professional printing. And its support for paths – that is, vector shapes embedded in the image file – is useful for creating clipping paths around irregularly shaped pictures. Its support for 48-bit and 96-bit colour will be welcome for those who work with high-dynamic-range images.

Photoshop also includes a wider range of creative processing tools than its junior cousins. Puppet Warp lets you distort shapes using a mesh, while Photoshop’s 3D tools let you map images onto virtual surfaces and move, rotate and transform them at will.

Photoshop even supports advanced programming features, such as recordable actions for simplifying repetitive tasks, and a full under-the-bonnet scripting interface that allows more advanced automation.

For all these reasons, Photoshop remains the industry-standard image-processing tool, and probably will be for many years to come. But if you don’t need this sort of power, it’s worth considering Adobe’s own low-cost alternatives.

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